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Stories about life in Denmark

The Christmas tree on the bicycle, and other stories of a bike-only household

Whenever the holiday season approaches, I always think about the time I brought home our Christmas tree on a bicycle.

It was a grey day in late November – we Americans like to start our Christmas decorating early – and my young daughter dearly wanted a tree for our Copenhagen apartment.

So we walked through the snow to the parking lot of a nearby Netto, where a cheerful fellow from Jutland was waiting with a good selection of sweet-smelling pines.

Being a very small girl, my daughter wanted a very big tree. The man spied our shopper bike and looked a little doubtful, but he went ahead and wrapped up one of the largest trees in white plastic netting, and helped us lift it onto the bike.

The trunk was on the baggage carrier in the back, and the top of the tree over the handlebars and into the basket. We walked the bike home that way, with my daughter holding the big pine tree at its center over the seat, while I steered the bike in the right direction.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Danish, Dutch, Deutschland – Why Denmark gets confused with its neighbors

I run a small business, so often I outsource minor tasks. This week I outsourced the writing of some Tweets to Jessie, a college student in the United States.

Jessie did a good job, with one major exception: in all 100 Tweets, she confused the word Danish with the word Dutch.

For example:

Copenhagen Fashion Week – Check out the latest in Dutch fashion!

Stay healthy like the Dutch: Bicycling in Denmark

10 top restaurants in Copenhagen: Enjoy Dutch cuisine!

Now, don’t give me that stereotype about geographically dumb Americans. At least not until Europeans can tell me the difference between Iowa, Idaho and Ohio – and yes, there is a difference.

Understandable confusion
The fact is, confusing the Dutch and the Danes is understandable. They both represent small, peaceful countries with seafaring traditions. Countries which are today best known for healthy blond people on bicycles, rushing home to see their monarchs on TV and eat potato-based dishes.

The Dutch are known for their windmills. The Danes are known for their wind turbines. It’s an understandable mistake.

But among the neighbors to Denmark, it’s actually not the Dutch who resemble the Danes most. It’s not the Norwegians, even though Norway actually used to be a part of Denmark. It’s not the Swedes, who now serve as a low-wage workforce in Copenhagen shops and fast food restaurants.

It’s the Germans.

Awkward and aggressive
Now, my Danish friends might not like to hear me say that. There have been wars, and the Germans are sometimes seen as awkward and aggressive.

But the Danes are more German than they’d ever want to admit. For example, the Germans love punctuality. Pünktlichkeit muss sein.

So do the Danes. In Denmark, if you have a business meeting at 10am, you need to show up at precisely 10am. 10:03 is not good. 10:05 is embarrassing – you’d better apologize. 10:10 is a humiliation. And it’s not just business. I’ve had dinner parties where my guests actually circle the block so they can ring the bell at 8-dot-00-dot 00.

Now, this is not entirely a bad thing. The buses run on time in Denmark. The trains often run on time. Otherwise mass transit wouldn’t be so popular.

For the sake of good order
Both countries also like order. If a Dane wants to say that someone is a stand-up, trustworthy guy, they say he’s ordentlig – orderly. When they want you to clarify something, they ask you to do it ‘for the sake of good order.’ For god ordens skyld. For the sake of good order, let’s write this contract down.

Of course, the German love of order is well-known. Ordnung muß sein! Everything must be in order. And, of course, if you come across a German friend crying, wailing, in despair, you say Ist was nicht i ordnung? Is something not in order?

In general, the languages are very similar: Danish, like English, is a Germanic language.

I used to live in Berlin, long before I moved to Denmark, and I still confuse the languages. When I’m speaking Danish I sometimes reach for some long-forgotten adjective and I take a moment to wrestle with the question – is this word I’ve found German or is it Danish? At least half the time I’m wrong.

No Bundesflagge on birthday cakes
Of course, there are differences. Danes are wildly and openly patriotic in a way Germans are not, for obvious historical reasons.

The Danish flag is almost always used on birthday cakes, but you won’t seen the Bundesflagge on top of a geburtstagstorte, unless maybe the German team is in the World Cup.

And Germans love their hierarchy, in a way Danes do not. In Denmark, just about everybody uses his or her first name – teachers, doctors, bank officers. An incredibly old lady might be Fru Jensen, but I don’t think I’ve used the corresponding masculine title, Herr Jensen, in the 13 years I’ve been in Denmark.

Germans, on the other hand, love their titles, and even pile them on top of each other. Herr Doktor Professor von Schmidt.

People who know German – or French or Spanish for that matter – know there’s two ways to say ‘you’, formal and informal.

In French it’s tu and vous, in Spanish it’s usted and tu, and in German it’s du and Sie – and woe be it to you if you use du when the German you’re talking to is expecting the formal Sie.

That’s not true in Denmark. Everybody is du There is a formal Danish ‘you’, called De, which immigrants still learn in language schools, but it’s never used.

Except for letters you get from your bank. Don’t ask me why.

The dominant neighbor?
Now there is one irony in the Danish-German relationship. For many years, Germany has been the dominant partner. Even today, Danish schoolchildren learn German – German kids don’t learn Danish.

Danes drive into Germany to buy beer and soda pop, not the other way around. And Germany has invaded Denmark several times, most recently in the 1990s, when Germans were buying up all the summer houses in Western Denmark, driving out the Danes.

This is true – Denmark got a special dispensation from the EU to prohibit Germans from buying summer houses in Denmark.

But in recent years, the flow of influence has gone in the other direction, particularly when it comes to Berlin, the German capital.

Locals there have been complaining because foreign investors are buying huge blocks of apartments, driving up the prices. And the biggest group of foreign property investors….are from Denmark.

 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019

Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the Statens Museum for Kunst / Danish National Gallery

I do a lot of writing in the lovely, sunny cafe at the Statens Museum for Kunst, otherwise known as the Danish National Gallery.

This museum is free to the public and has a great collection of both historic and contemporary art.

Now I’m excited to say that you can get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English at the Statens Museum for Kunst gift shop.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the shop at Denmark’s National Museum, at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks. It’s also available in Aarhus at Stakbogladen near the university.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

National Museum of Denmark shop book
Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the National Museum of Denmark

Stop by the shop at Danmarks Nationamuseet /The National Museum of Denmark to get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English or Chinese.

Denmark’s National Museum is located in downtown Copenhagen, and it’s got a great collection of Viking artifacts as well as a wonderful kids section where kids can dress up as Vikings and ride in a play Viking ship.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

Books, Stories about life in Denmark

恭喜發財! The ‘How to Live in Denmark’ Chinese version is now available.

After a process that seemed to take longer than building the Great Wall, the Chinese version of ‘How to Live in Denmark’ is finally available, just in time for Chinese New Year. This is the year of the Goat, an auspicious year for creative enterprises. 恭喜發財!

Thanks to my Singapore-based translator, John Zhao, as well as the many Denmark-based Chinese speakers who took time to help me out! I appreciate it.

You can access the eBook version here on the site or via Apple’s iBooks store. (Due to an agreement with the Chinese government, Amazon does not support Chinese for Kindle Direct Publishing.) It’s also available via the Danish online bookstore, Saxo.com.

A print version of the How to Live in Denmark Chinese version will be available March 1.

Please contact me if you’re interested in a volume package to distribute to your student or work organization,  of if you’re interested inviting me to China (I would be happy to visit my old colleagues at the South China Morning Post) or having me stage a live ‘How To Live in Denmark’ event.

Podcasts

Cheating on Mother Nature: Danes and Environmentalism

 

It’s been a beautiful autumn here in Denmark. Golden sun and blue skies, red and yellow and orange leaves on the trees. Just gorgeous. And unusually warm for Denmark. It’s always exciting when, instead of wearing your winter coat every day from October to April, you can wear it every day from November to April.

But this unusually pleasant weather can’t help but spark conversation about global warming. So far the biggest impact climate change has had in Denmark are some severe rainstorms, when end up flooding a lot of basements and overwhelming a lot of sewer systems. It’s intriguing to think that plumbers may become the great heroes of the twenty-first century.

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Podcasts

The Little Match Girl and the Fur Industry: Denmark and China

 

As some of you know, one of the other things I do for a living is work as a voiceover, and one of my regular gigs is with a Danish company that makes high-end microphones.

Frequently, they present their microphones to visiting customers from around the world, and my role is to be fitted out with six or seven different microphones at once – a headset microphone like Britney Spears wears, a necklace microphone like the ones on reality shows, a lapel microphone like TV newscasters, even an old fashioned tabletop microphone. Then I read a text while the company switches the various microphones on and off, so the customers can hear the difference between the different models.

When the customers are from China, I always choose to read a text from Hans Christian Andersen. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are extremely popular in China; they are frequently read to Chinese children.

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Stories about life in Denmark

The Little Mermaid is four feet tall: Better options for tourists in Denmark

It’s summer in Denmark. The evenings are brighter, the winds aren’t quite as chilly, and the wild blue anemone flowers are bursting up through the grass. And the tourists are on the way. Understandably, Denmark attracts most of its tourists during the spring and summer, when you don’t need to pack heavy winter clothing. Although maybe you do – it depends on the summer.

Anyway, the tourists will be coming, and some of those tourists in Denmark may be related to you. What do you do with them? They want the Danish experience.

Based on my 14 years of showing parents, aunts, former colleagues, old college roommates and friends of friends around Denmark, these are my tips. They’re a bit Copenhagen-centric, but I think most of them can be applied throughout Denmark. And at the end, I’ll tell you about an amazing new museum I just found last week.

The Classic Tourist Day
OK, here’s the classic tourist day. First of all, start your tourists in the morning with a trip to the local bakery where they can pick out their own Danish pastry. Or two or three pastries. I know it’s called Wienerbrod – Viennese bread – but Danish pastries really are some of the best in the world. And get some coffee or black tea. Carbs and caffeine will set your tourists up well for the day’s busy program.

Once your tourists are energized, now is the time to take them walking. Walk them around the old city center, and past the largest, most visible historical monuments in your town. In Copenhagen, you can take them up the Round Tower or to the Queen’s Palace. In Aarhus, maybe tour the Gamle By, and in Odense visit Hans Christian Andersen’s home.

Now, part of this trip may take them down a shopping street. This is critical – don’t let them shop yet, or they’ll be carrying bags around all day. Or, if it’s your mom, you’ll be carrying bags around all day. Save the shopping for another time.

Lunchtime: Picnic or Restaurant
After you’ve seen the city and the major sites, it might be time for an early lunch. If the weather is good, a picnic in the park is great. Denmark has beautiful parks. Maybe buy some Danish open-faced sandwiches and some drinks.

If your visitors are elderly – or if they’re rich and will be picking up the tab – a touristy restaurant with Danish food is another option.

In Copenhagen I always recommend the Royal Copenhagen café, which is hidden in a quiet square right off of Amagertorv, the center of town. It has a nice atmosphere and some traditional Danish food made slightly fancy and fun in the form of “smushi”, a cross between smørrebrød and sushi.

Your tourists are now re-energized, so now is a great time for the local museum. I find that men are usually most interested in the Viking artifacts, you know, iron sticks with points on the end, while women are more excited about the art and glass museums.

My favorite museum in Copenhagen
Being a woman, my personal favorite is the Museum of Modern Stained Glass Art in Copenhagen. It’s also known as the Cistern Museum, because it’s housed in an old underground water tank, which means it’s the only museum in Europe with no natural light. So it’s dark, and the floors are wet, and there’s water dripping from the walls. Your voice echoes. But amid all this gloom is wonderful, bright stained glass in all sorts of modern forms. It’s really cool. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.

But back to the tourists. If it’s late afternoon, now, they’re getting a little tired. I recommend a boat trip. Your guests can sit down with a chilled Danish beer and see the city from the water. In Copenhagen, these boat trips are a great way to see Denmark’s most disappointing tourist attraction, the statue of the Little Mermaid.

If you’ve seen it, you know the Little Mermaid is only about four feet tall – that’s 1.25 meters. You probably own pillows that are bigger than the Little Mermaid. But all the boat trips go right by it, so your tourists can get the photos they need for their Instagram or Facebook feeds. If they want, they can climb out of the boat and onto the slippery rock where the mermaid sits for a photo. That’s best performed before too many beers have been consumed.

You can round out the day at one of the local music festivals, or Tivoli if you’re in Copenhagen. Tivoli is a tourist attraction that actually lives up to expectations. The Copenhagen Zoo is open late in the summer and it is very nice, now that they’ve temporarily stopped killing off their animals. I’m afraid I can’t offer you any nightlife recommendations. Ask someone under 30 who doesn’t have any kids.

And while I’m not an authority on nightclubs, I am a bit of an authority on museums. When I was unemployed many years ago, I made a project of going to every museum I could. But there was one I did not know about until just this week.

The Danish Museum of Immigration
It is the Danish Museum of Immigration – it’s a whole museum about foreigners coming to Denmark. It’s in Farum, which is a suburb of Copenhagen. They don’t publicize themselves very well. I would never have known about it myself if I hadn’t had to use the ladies room at Farum City Hall.

The museum covers 500 years of immigration into Denmark, from 17th century German soldiers to 21st-century Syrian refugees. It’s a well-designed, modern museum, with some excellent visual exhibits. That said, this museum about diversity and inclusiveness in Denmark…is entirely in Danish.
 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019

Podcasts

Danes and Swedes: The world’s worst haircuts are Swedish

 

I don’t regret many things in life, but I do regret not going to a party I was invited to almost 14 years ago.

That was in 2000, when I first arrived in Denmark. It was a party to mark the opening of the Øresund Bridge, which connects Denmark and Sweden. There were no cars on the bridge yet, so you could easily walk or bike between these two countries that had been bitter enemies for hundreds of years.

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Stories about life in Denmark

The Little Match Girl and the Fur Industry: China and Denmark

One of the many things I do for a living is work as a voiceover, and one of my regular gigs is with a Danish company that makes high-end microphones. Frequently, they present their microphones to visiting customers from around the world, and my role is to be fitted out with six or seven different microphones at once – a headset microphone like Britney Spears wears, a necklace microphone like the ones on reality shows, a lapel microphone like newscasters wear, even an old fashioned tabletop microphone. Then I read a text while the company switches the various microphones on and off, so the customers can hear the difference between the different models.

When the customers are from China, I always choose to read a text from Hans Christian Andersen. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are extremely popular in China. Many Chinese read them as children. So, when I’m faced with a room full of Chinese microphone buyers, I usually read The Little Match Girl. The Little Match Girl, if you haven’t heard it lately, is a very sad story about a starving little girl on the streets of Copenhagen in the 19th century. She’s supposed to be selling matches to help support her family, but it’s winter and she’s so cold that she keeps lighting the matches to keep herself warm. In the end, they find her small, frail body frozen to death.

So, when I read this story, strapped into seven different microphones, I find that by the end these highly technical Chinese sound professionals are sniffling and sentimental, transported back to their younger days.

Photos around the Hans Christian Andersen statue
Hans Christian Andersen means a lot to the Chinese. Down by Copenhagen City Hall, there’s a statue of the man Danes call H.C. Andersen, and it’s almost always surrounded by Chinese tourists, taking one photo after another with the guy who wrote the Ugly Duckling. He also wrote the Little Mermaid, and the one time the famous Little Mermaid statue has been out of Denmark, it went to Shanghai, as part of a World Expo.

Denmark and China have a surprisingly deep relationship. Denmark was the first Western government to recognize the postrevolutionary Chinese government, in 1950. These days, China says Denmark is its top partner in Scandinavia, and the countries have a strategic relationship. Their leaders visit each other a lot – Danish prime minister Helle Thorning Schmidt was in China this week – and the two countries exchange thousands of university students ever year. You wouldn’t think it, but China and Denmark have much more in common than both having red flags and a love for green technology.

Basicially, the Chinese are helping keep three major Danish industries afloat.

The first is the pork industry. Denmark has millions of pigs – more pigs than people – and its other big growth market, the Middle East, is strangely uninterested in its pork products. China is interested. Denmark sells about 13 billion crowns a year of pork products in China.

The second industry is the wearable fur industry. In parts of the US or UK, wearing fur is controversial. It’s sometimes seen as cruel. I once wore a fur scrunchie in New York City – this was the 1990s – colleague said to me “Why do you have a dead animal on your head?”

In Scandinavia, fur is totally acceptable, as it is in China. As a matter of fact, in China, wearable fur is still seen as a sign of luxury. I was cleaning out my storage room last year and selling the stuff I didn’t use, and I found a ratty old vintage coat with a fur collar. When posted it for sale on Facebook, all the interested buyers were beautiful young Chinese women living in Denmark. The girl who bought it put it on and looked like a film star from the 1930s. It looked a lot better on her than it did on me. Anyway, mink skins alone account for about one-third of all Danish exports to China.

China loves the Danish Royal Family
The third Danish industry that China helps support is the Danish royal family. Some people in Denmark love the royal family, while others think they cost too much. One of the local newspapers calls Crown Prince Frederik Denmark’s biggest welfare recipient. But the Danish royal family is popular in Asia. Businesspeople in Denmark say that when it comes to making a deal in Asia, bringing along a prince really helps. That Chinese mogul who doesn’t have time to meet someone from little Denmark – oh, but the Danish Crown Prince will be there! Suddenly, the mogul has time for the meeting.

Actually, the Danish Royal Family has another significant tie to China. The Crown Prince’s brother married a woman who is partly of Chinese descent. She was the first Asian to join a European royal family. Her sons, who are 7th and 8th in line to the Danish throne, are the first people of Asian descent in a European royal line. Now, that prince and princess have since divorced and she’s been pretty much tossed on the junk heap, but that can happen to anyone – look at Princess Diana in Britain.

As an American living in Denmark, I have only one complaint about the Danish-Chinese relationship. It is almost impossible to find good Chinese food in Denmark. Denmark has good Thai food and OK Japanese food, but the only Chinese food available here is usually at greasy little grill bars in the bad part of town. So, having lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years, I generally make my own Chinese food at home. So we have an American, in Denmark, making Chinese food. That’s globalization.
 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019